College football is back. We have waited long enough.
Your favorite team probably doesn't kick off until September 5 (or if you're lucky, September 3). But your eyes should turn to Missoula, Montana this Saturday, August 29, for the true start of the season.
North Dakota State takes on Montana in the newly annual FCS Kickoff game, showcasing the best college football's second tier has to offer. And this really is the best it has to offer, at least on one side. Montana has a fascinating new coach and hopes of getting back amongst the FCS elite, and North Dakota State is a true dynasty, a four-time championship steamroller that would look at home in the FBS.
We don't get many opportunities to witness the power of a fully operational battle station. Here's why you should watch NDSU try to blow up a planet at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.
1. NDSU might be better than most FBS teams.
There is no greater force than NDSU. In the past two years, we've seen Alabama's title hopes smashed by a field goal return, Urban Meyer eating sad pizza, and FSU's undefeated streak squandered as Jameis Winston lost control of all his limbs. And yet the Bison keep trucking, a herd demolishing all in their path.
Last year's title was the program's fourth straight FCS championship, making the Bison only the second NCAA team ever to win four consecutive football championships at any level. (The other: Division III Augustana in the 1980s.) Since 2011, NDSU is a preposterous 58-3.
2014 could have been a down year for the Bison. They lost head coach Craig Bohl, who moved up to take over Wyoming, as well as starting QB Brock Jensen. Instead they went 15-1 -- we'll chalk up the loss to No. 10 Northern Iowa as new head coach Chris Klieman taking it easy on his alma mater -- and new QB Carson Wentz set school records in completions, yards, and total offense. The school took home another national title and Wentz earned tournament MVP honors.
It's cute. You're probably thinking it isn't impressive because it came against FCS teams. But every time the Bison play FBS teams, they romp over them too, winning five straight against the big boys. Last year it was an abysmal Iowa State, but the year before they beat a Kansas State squad that went 8-5 and eventually beat Michigan in a bowl game. The Bison have also won against Minnesota, Kansas, Central Michigan, and Ball State. Over the last decade, their record vs. FBS is 8-3, with only one loss by more than three points.
They will play Iowa in 2016. Stop scheduling them.
NDSU would probably finish in the middle of a power conference, and it's doing it with a smaller roster and smaller bankroll than its FBS counterparts. It's downright incredible, and we should all take a moment to salute the Bison.
2. Stitt happens.
Coaching Montana for the first time is Bob Stitt, who takes over the Grizzlies after 15 years in charge of the Colorado School of Mines Orediggers.
If you follow college football closely, there's an okay chance you've heard of Stitt. If you watch FBS teams, you've seen one of his plays being used by a better paid coach. But unless you've attended a Division II game in the Rockies, you probably haven't seen his offense in action.
Bill Connelly, who interviewed Stitt for his book Football Study Hall, described him as a college football "Internet Bigfoot." He rose to public awareness in 2012 when Dana Holgorsen credited Stitt for the devastatingly effective fly sweep at West Virginia.
At a school with almost no history of football success, Stitt had 13 winning seasons in 15 years, three conference championships, and incredibly prolific offenses. He capped that with a Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference title last year, earning the gig with Montana this season.
It's cool to finally see a coach held in high regard finally running his nifty offense on non-grainy TV, but the Grizzlies should be pretty good, too. Montana has more FCS playoff appearances than any other team, and cracked the top 15 of the preseason FCS poll. If Stitt can mold the Grizz as he wants, this should be one of the best in FCS.
3. It's college football.
And we've waited long enough, dammit.